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L5Larry

Bridge Project In The Works

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As most of you probably know, I play in a 20-piece jazz big band, and play either a 1990 L-5CES, or a 1947 L-7.

 

5443652290_4669e67d2f.jpg

 

Well it's time for my summer guitar maintenance on my jazzboxes. The jazz big band gets a few weeks off in the middle of the summer (and holiday season of the winter), and I use that time to do general maintenance such as cleaning, restringing, setup, and any repairs or alterations I might want/need to do. During the "season" my jazzboxes get a lot of playing time (mostly the L-5), usually about 15-20 hours a week. This causes the need for regular and seasonal maintenance.

 

Although built on the same platform, the two guitars are very different. The L-7 I've setup with a pickguard mounted "floating" pickup, and of course the L-5CES has the twin humbuckers mounted to the soundboard. Other than the "bling", the other major difference is the L-7 has a all wood bridge, and the L-5 has an ABR-1 on a wood base. This brings me to my summer project. What would the L-5 sound like with a wooden bridge.

 

I thought I could answer my own question by temporarily swapping the bridges. I say temporarily because the L-7 has a rosewood fingerboard and bridge, and the L-5 has ebony. I suppose Gibson did not "standardize" their bridge post spacing until the invention of the Tune-O-Matic, for the post spacing are just barely off. OK, so on to Plan B.

 

Looking on-line there are many aftermarket ebony archtop bridges available. All are sold with the base, not as tops only, and their post spacing does not match my Gibson base. In a couple of months of e-bay searches I have also not seen any vintage Gibson ebony archtop bridges for sale. So Plan B down the tubes.

 

On to Plan C. Looking at the Gibson on-line catalog, I noticed that the "Lee Ritnour" L-5 Signature Model, has an ebony bridge instead of a tune-o-matic, just the exact part I need. I contacted Gibson through their "Talk 2 Us" feature on the website just to be told that that was a part not available for individual sale. OK, I understand mfg's not selling retail to the general public, it's the way they protect their dealers and trademarks, etc. I am currently trying to go through proper channels and find a "authorized" Gibson service center and see if they can get the part I want. I don't have much hope in that so it's on to Plan D - Do It Yourself.

 

I've procured a chunk of ebony from violin maker friend of mine, and am going to "attempt" to carve my own compensated ebony bridge. I do have the rosewood bridge off the L-7 for a guide to general design, size, shape, etc, so I'm off to my shop to try to avoid sticking any wood chisels through my left hand. I've got enough ebony for about six attempts, hopefully I can get ONE right. Wish me luck.

 

If there is any interest here on the forum I can continue this thread with play-by-play updates and photos. Let me know.

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Hi Larry, I am interested in your project. Take photos as you go along and maybe post some. I would suggest you contact Ren Ferguson in Boseman. Also did you check with Jimmy Gravity at JGravity on Broadway to see what he has or can get?

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I would suggest you contact Ren Ferguson in Boseman.

 

I don't mean this in a disrespectful manner, but just exactly what information would I be trying to get from Ren in Boseman about a guitar that was built in the Nashville Custom Shop 20+ years ago by James Huthins?

 

Also did you check with Jimmy Gravity at JGravity on Broadway to see what he has or can get?

 

Yes, I just got off the phone with Dave at Gravity. He got the same response I got from Gibson, "we don't sell individual parts from "Signature Series" guitars." Now what if he had a "Lee Ritnour" guitar on the bench with a broken bridge....

 

I'm digging for a phone number for Rich Worthington. He's the only luthier (and in this case I DO mean LUTHIER) in St. Louis that I allow to TOUCH my guitars. Maybe he's got what I need sitting in a dusty old parts box. I'm sure the conversion from a wooden bridge to a tune-o-matic was a much more popular conversion (back in the day), somebody somewhere has a have an ebony bridge top just waiting to see the light of day again.

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Project update:

 

Pulled the bridges off both guitars and got out the micrometer. I have begun a comparison chart (measured to the thousandth of an inch), of the two bridges (1947 carved rosewood, and 1990 ABR-1), and other relevant specifications.

 

The bridge post spacing was .025" different. 25 thousandths of an inch is not much, about the thickness of 6-7 sheets of printer paper, so I decided to go ahead and force the rosewood bridge unto the studs of the ebony base of the L-5 bridge. I spent a little time playing the guitar (amplified), and my first impression is that I DEFINITELY want to continue with this project. I'll play it a little more later and sleep on the test results.

 

If I wake up tomorrow and feel the same way, I'll start carving on the block of ebony this weekend.

 

BTW, the bridge post spacing on the 1947 L-7 was dead on Gibson specs at 2.875" (2 7/8"), the 1990 L-5 was 2.900".

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I don't mean this in a disrespectful manner, but just exactly what information would I be trying to get from Ren in Boseman about a guitar that was built in the Nashville Custom Shop 20+ years ago by James Huthins?

 

 

 

Yes, I just got off the phone with Dave at Gravity. He got the same response I got from Gibson, "we don't sell individual parts from "Signature Series" guitars." Now what if he had a "Lee Ritnour" guitar on the bench with a broken bridge....

 

 

 

Your response sounds does like it is a disrespect to me and the information I was offering you. I suggested Ren because you are looking for a bridge not information. You haven no knowledge of what Ren has worked on or what parts he may have. Jim Hutchins (rest his sole ) and Ren worked on many projects together. Ren is a wealth of knowledge and also might just have what you need it his parts drawer or know where to got one. He may even offer to make you one as he is also a player and may just want to help. He is the best luthier that I know..

 

I don't know Dave at J.Gravity. I only deal with Jimmy Gravity and he has been a big help over the years for things like this.

 

Good luck with your project. It is an interesting one.

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Your response sounds does like it is a disrespect to me and the information I was offering you.

 

Sorry, I should have phrased my response in a different manner.

 

How do I get in touch with Ren in Bozeman?

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Having been my own guitar tech for more than 50 years, I've collected a large supply of useful parts, including these:

 

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I've tested most of my archtops with both TOMs and wooden bridges. There is some difference in tone and projection--some of them sound better one way and some the other.

 

That being said, in the context of a big band, the differences pretty much get lost, but the guitars I play most with big bands have TOMs

 

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Danny W.

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Having been my own guitar tech for more than 50 years, I've collected a large supply of useful parts, including these

 

Willing to part with one of the bottom three?

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That being said, in the context of a big band, the differences pretty much get lost, but the guitars I play most with big bands have TOMs

 

Danny W.

 

 

Danny, you have a couple of seriously nice guitars there! Talk about them sometime, if you haven't already done it here. If you've been your own guitar tech for 50 years, I bet you have more than a couple of gems in the closet.

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Hi Larry,

 

Really interesting topic. Given I own an L5CES, a Johnny Smith and a Lee Ritenour, I can say that I prefer the tone of the Johnny Smith first and the Lee Ritenour second. Both of these guitars have something in common, they both have wooden bridges. I guess this is at least telling me something.

 

I'll be interested to see how the L5 shapes up with the wooden bridge.

 

By the way is that a Benedetto pickup on the L7? Regards,

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Willing to part with one of the bottom three?

 

Sorry, no--I've learned from experience not to get rid of parts.

 

A number of years ago I had a beautiful '46 Epi Emperor with a modern bridge (just like the one you're looking for). I had a repair guy build a reproduction of a period-correct bridge for it. It didn't take him long and it wasn't very expensive.

 

I see ebony bridges that are claimed to be Gibson parts on Ebay and on dealer's lists from time to time. You might want to call around.

 

Danny W.

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Hi Larry,

 

Really interesting topic. Given I own an L5CES, a Johnny Smith and a Lee Ritenour, I can say that I prefer the tone of the Johnny Smith first and the Lee Ritenour second. Both of these guitars have something in common, they both have wooden bridges. I guess this is at least telling me something.

 

I'll be interested to see how the L5 shapes up with the wooden bridge.

 

By the way is that a Benedetto pickup on the L7? Regards,

 

Your Rit and JS have floating pickups, while the L-5CES has set-in pickups. In addition, the bracing is different. This makes far more difference to the tone than the wooden bridge.

 

Danny W.

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Danny, you have a couple of seriously nice guitars there! Talk about them sometime, if you haven't already done it here. If you've been your own guitar tech for 50 years, I bet you have more than a couple of gems in the closet.

 

I've been posting about some of my guitars in various replies.

 

Danny W.

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Project update:

 

I spent a couple of hours late Friday afternoon slicing and carving on the chunk of ebony. What I'm finding to be the hardest part of this project, from an engineering standpoint, is the layout of the zig-zag pattern of the top. The actual carving and shaping has not been a problem. For this first attempt, I just did the layout by eye, using the rosewood bridge from the L-7 as a visual guide.

 

I've got the saddle area carved and shaped, and today I'm going make the final length and height cuts, drill the post holes, and take it for a spin. For this first trial, the two things I'm most concerned about is intonation, and how it sits on the posts and thumbwheels.

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By the way is that a Benedetto pickup on the L7? Regards

 

Yes, that's the Benedetto S-6 made by Seymour Duncan. I absolutely love that pickup on the L-7, it's perfect for what I wanted out of plugging in that guitar.

 

I also have an archtop with a fingerboard mounted Kent Armstrong. It's also very nice, but I do like the Benedetto better. Kent Armstrong is now also making a pickguard mounted pickup very similar to the Benedetto, and guitar builder Bill Moll (Wm. Moll Guitars, Springfield, MO), swears by them. He and I had a recent "heated" discussion about the Kent vs the Bene. If I were to setup another floating pickup archtop, I would have to try the Kent Armstrong model upon his "strong" recommendation. Who am I to argue with the guy who builds John Pizzarelli's guitars.

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Hi L5Larry, I have put the same S6 Benedetto pickup on my ES165 Herb Ellis. The floating pickup that came with the Guitar was faulty and I decided to try for a better 'jazz sound'. The Benedetto works really well. I have also used the Benedetto B6 jazz pickup on my single pickup ES175. it's got a very warm jazz sound and there is no need to turn the treble off. However I kept the original Gibson pickup just in case. The Benedetto's are great pickups!!

I've never heard or seen the Kent pickups but would defiinitely like to see and hear one. Regards, Alan

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Project update:

 

I got the first, but not final, bridge completed, installed and road tested. My general layout and order of operation concept was good, but I think I may change a thing or two in the order of operation department.

 

The problem I have is intonation. I made the mistake to ASSUME that the zig-zag pattern on the '47 rosewood L-7 bridge was correct. After a few adjustments on the bridge plate location, all strings intonate perfectly EXCEPT the "G" string. If you'll notice the zig-zag pattern in the photos above that Danny W posted (Bass-left, treble-right), the "G" string saddle area steps extremely forward. This does not work for the strings I use (LaBella #800M, 14-67), and I can't imagine it would be the proper location for any wound "G" flatwound set. The forward offset of this saddle throws the intonation of the "G" string off by about 18 cents. This is unacceptable for a "custom" part, especially if I'm making it myself for MY guitar.

 

So, for round two I'm going to reinstall the ABR-1, adjust the saddles so the intonation is DEAD ON, and use that as my guide. I should also be able to get very accurate measurements off the ABR-1, BUT transferring them to the carved ebony will still be a challenge.

 

Working with the ebony has been very interesting. Due to it's hardness and density it's more like working with a soft metal or hard plastic than wood. I would compare it to working with something like brass more so than say working with maple, oak or walnut. Even the tools involved would be more thought of as metalworking tools.

 

I'm still having fun with this project, but won't be able to get back to it for a week or so. I was in a hurry to get the first one done so I didn't stop for photos, nor did I expect it to be a final product. Since for the next attempt I will have a final design (and hopefully a final product), I will take a little more time and care, and will photograph the process.

 

Stay tuned.

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The problem I have is intonation. I made the mistake to ASSUME that the zig-zag pattern on the '47 rosewood L-7 bridge was correct. After a few adjustments on the bridge plate location, all strings intonate perfectly EXCEPT the "G" string. If you'll notice the zig-zag pattern in the photos above that Danny W posted (Bass-left, treble-right), the "G" string saddle area steps extremely forward. This does not work for the strings I use (LaBella #800M, 14-67), and I can't imagine it would be the proper location for any wound "G" flatwound set. The forward offset of this saddle throws the intonation of the "G" string off by about 18 cents. This is unacceptable for a "custom" part, especially if I'm making it myself for MY guitar.

 

 

 

I have that same pattern bridge top on a few guitars and it works quite well with the T-I Benson .012" rounds I use on them.

 

However, fixed compensation is always a compromise. Change sets, brands, gauge, and you might find that what used to work doesn't anymore. I tend to keep strings on for quite awhile, and sometimes adjust the compensation over time (on adjustable bridges). On the ones with wooden tops, I just have learned to tolerate it.

 

Danny W.

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Project complete. Success on second attempt. I've had a chance to get a few hours playing time on the new bridge and I'm really happy with the way it sounds, plays AND looks.

 

I had a chance to take a couple of photos this afternoon.

 

5923888245_1639c9fd38_z.jpg

First bridge based on the saddle spacing from my L-7. The "G" string intonation was about 18 cents off.

 

As they call it in the advertising business, here's the hero. Second attempt, saddle pattern measured off of the adjusted ABR-1.

5923888423_3b60ac2061_z.jpg

 

I got all my measurement and order of operation problems figured out, and got production time down to about four hours. I've started composing a step-by-step summary report of the project and will post it when completed.

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Great job Larry. I love to see knowledgeable people who are willing to solve their own problems. Really good education for the rest of us.

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